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Cellphone carriers say they're ready for Sundance demand

Published January 7, 2013 7:47 am

AT&T adding mobile site as others increase capacity for film festival.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

What good is a Hollywood film festival if my people can't call your people to do lunch?

The annual Sundance Film Festival begins Jan. 17, which means thousands of film producers, directors and stars will converge on Park City to engage in a battle over movie distribution deals. And their No. 1 weapon of choice is the cellphone.

The four major national cellphone carriers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — say they're prepared for the onslaught of wireless calls during the festival, and they expect dropped calls to be at a minimum.

But only one cell company, AT&T, is actually adding a cell tower to the area during the festival, according to Park City municipal project manager Dave Gustafson, who has to approve the permits for any additional cell sites. AT&T is adding a mobile "cell site on wheels," or COW, to a parking lot next to Park City's municipal hall on Marsac Avenue.

AT&T additionally is making enhancements to existing cell sites to increase its capacity to take calls and data transmissions. The company also activated a new cell site at Bonanza Drive and Prospector Avenue to enhance calling in the Kearns Boulevard area in Park City.

"The festival generates memorable experiences that our customers will want to share with friends and family through text messages, photos, videos, social media and calls from their mobile devices," Martin Clark, acting vice president and general manager for the AT&T Rocky Mountain region, said in a statement. 

"This is the third year that we've deployed a team of network engineers to help provide great connectivity, solid coverage and fast speeds," Clark said.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile and Sprint said they, too, will prepare for the festival's increased demand but were much less specific.

"T-Mobile will be adding additional capacity to handle the increase in both voice and data traffic," said a company spokesman who declined to elaborate.

A Sprint spokesman said his company will be adding voice and data capacity to six cell sites in Park City during the festival.

Only Verizon is not actively preparing for the increase in voice and data traffic while Sundance is on. "The Verizon network is more than ready to handle the crowds expected at Sundance," a company spokesman said in a statement. "We have no plans to add temporary cell sites. We're confident that our existing network coverage — including 4G LTE service — in the Park City and surrounding area is ready to rock."

Verizon users will know whether that's true or not when Sundance rolls around, but Verizon did get the best marks nationally for voice and data quality, according to the latest Consumer Reports survey (AT&T was last).

Verizon also was the first to launch its faster 4G LTE data network in Utah. Its 4G LTE network, which allows users to surf the Internet over their smartphones up to 10 times faster than on the older 3G data network, covers all of Park City.

AT&T recently launched its 4G LTE network in Utah, but it does not yet cover the Park City area.

Anyone who has been at a crowded rock concert or attended a football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium knows what happens when tens of thousands of fans try to make calls or text pictures from the event — they can't connect to the cell networks.

"A lot of times, your cellphone gets dropped because of the demand," Steve McComb, owner of Cisero's Ristorante and Bistro 412 in Park City, said about cellphone demand during Sundance. "It used to be really bad, but they've [cell carriers] gotten better at it. But sometimes you dial a number and nothing happens."

During Sundance, that kind of network failure just can't happen when multimillion-dollar movie deals depend on the success of connecting with the right people at the right time.

"It's about conducting business, and a lot of it can be really bizarre. At a table for lunch, all four people are talking, and they're not talking to themselves, they're talking on their cellphones," McComb said about customers at his restaurants during Sundance. "Sometimes it's utterly ridiculous."

vince@sltrib.com